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February 8, 2011

Senate Democrats showing signs of fracture

In a rare showing of discord among the Senate Democrats, almost half recently signed a letter seeking a more unified approach to policy discussions and leadership selection.

The letter, and a response from Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, both of which were obtained by The Sun, hint at fractures in the party that controls the Senate by an almost three-to-one ratio.

Some Democratic lawmakers also have expressed misgivings about the Senate majority leader, appointed by Miller, as well as confusion over how their caucus is run. And some appear to be preparing for Miller's eventual departure as their leader.

"We believe a more active and formal Senate Democratic Caucus would promote cooperation and member engagement," the letter from 16 of the Senate's 35 Democrats says.

They wrote that they want to establish clear procedures for electing caucus leaders, better communicate about legislation and hold regular caucus meetings, stating that the House Democrats and Republicans in both chambers "meet regularly to discuss major policy issues and strategies."

Miller, who in January began his 25th year as Senate president, responded with a letter stressing "collegiality" and an "open-door policy." He did not seem pleased with the letter from the group.

"Letters distributed in a petition type of approach can cause immediate divisiveness in the Caucus and often achieve the opposite result of the intended purpose," Miller wrote. "... The signing of a letter on generic stationary to our appointed Caucus Chair without any prior complaint, correspondence or even simple conversation with us is indeed disturbing."

Since the initial letter and response Jan. 26, the Senate Democrats have agreed to meet once every two weeks, though some said that schedule predated the angst. But some senators who signed the letter said in interviews Monday that they hoped more changes would be on the way.

"Mike's not going to be here forever,' said Sen. Paul Pinsky, a Prince George's County Democrat. "And we need to have a clear understanding of what happens next. Right now the rules are so loosey-goosey -- it doesn't benefit anyone. We'd have better buy-in if everyone adopts some rules."

Sen. Brian Frosh of Montgomery County, declined to comment on why he signed the letter, saying it is "self-explanatory."

One of the chief complaints appears to be that there is no clear procedure for how the majority party chooses a Senate president and other leaders. Miller, who represents Prince George's and Calvert counties, was freshly elected to another four-year term in November and has been president every year since 1987. He's such a fixture that a Senate office building in Annapolis bears his name.

In his response letter, Miller noted that the procedure for selecting Senate leadership is a "long-standing" practice. After the caucus elects the Senate president and president pro tem -- Sen. Nathaniel McFadden of Baltimore has served in that role since 2007 -- Miller goes on to personally select the majority leader, caucus chair and committee leaders.

This year, he chose Sen. Catherine Pugh of Baltimore as caucus chair and Sen. Robert Garagiola of Montgomery County as majority leader. Some say they'd like the caucus, rather than the president, to fill those positions.

Several senators said they view Garagiola, who toppled an incumbent Republican to win his seat in 2002, as too conservative to represent the majority party. This year, however, Garagiola has introduced more left-leaning legislation such as same-sex marriage and an increase in the minimum wage.

Garagiola said Monday that he viewed the letter signed by 16 of his colleagues as the product of new members and "impatient" veterans. Many of the new members were delegates, and the House Democratic caucus meets weekly. And some of the veteran senators may have forgotten that the first year of the term typically involves fewer caucus meetings, he said, as lawmakers assemble their agendas for the four-year term.

He said he supports the idea that the Senate president can select leaders without the caucus voting. "Whoever the Senate president is, it's good to be able to put your team in place. Any Senate president should have a lot of discretion in that area."

He added that he thought Miller's choice of committee and caucus leaders "is a cross section reflective of the entire body."

As for talk of how to elect the next president, Garagiola said he thought his colleagues were "getting a little ahead of themselves."

Senate Democrats aren't alone. The 12-member Republican caucus also has endured strife this year. Sen. Allan Kittleman of Howard County resigned his post as minority leader after his support for civil unions led to discomfort among fellow Senate Republicans.

Sen. Nancy Jacobs of Harford and Cecil counties eked out a narrow win to succeed Kittleman. Her caucus voted for her over Frederick County Sen. David Brinkley.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 8:00 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

Comments

Isn't Maryland supposed to be a democracy? It's time for King Miller to be deposed and end his narcissistic reign!

It's about time that someone stood up to the old regime, for someone to stay in a position for as long as MM has been is a stupid decision.. He/She will become so complacent in their everyday activites, but for an individual to have tthis type of power over people for this long has its problems, there is more that could be said about this and hopefully our public servants will get to the bottom of it..

These stories are just made up by lazy journalists looking to meet story quotas. I know the Republicans do not believe in disagreement and discourse, but that is actually more destructive to democracy than disagreeing. It's healthy to challenge leadership. It's healthy to shake up the status quo. That the Democrats have enough diversity to do this within their party is a strength not a weakness.

People forget that there are, indeed, 2 parties in Annapolis---the Liberals and the Conservatives. This is a dispute between those two groups, with the Republicans generally siding with the Conservatives to form a voting majority.

And the Senate leadership (Floor and party leaders) meet every Tuesday morning to review progress and loosely plan strategy.

This seems like a very healthy development. Why not get a conversation going about how democratic our democratic institutions really are?

What this shows is why term limits for all political offices is something that must be acheived. The power of the incumbancy is not only something that is apparent when dealing with a minority party, but it is also something that comes into play within each individual party's power struggles. Too much power in few people makes for poor leadership.

I daresay that the responses from some would have been much different if the republicans were the party in power.

Well Senate better caucus on O'Mealey mouths 2 billion budget increase from last year with a defict already huge including a labor deal with state employees where union fees are automatic as well as pension changes..and how he played the union knowing the house and senate will not pass the deal and he can tell the unions he triesd all the time with a wink to Miller and of course no slots Bush in the house.

DemoFractures are not localized to Maryland.

"A handful of moderate Senate Democrats are looking for ways to roll back the highly contentious individual mandate — the pillar of President Barack Obama’s health care law — a sign that red-state senators are prepared to assert their independence ahead of the 2012 elections.

They haven’t decided whether to propose legislation, but any effort by moderate Democrats that takes aim at the individual mandate could embarrass Obama and embolden Republicans who are still maneuvering to take down the health care law.

And it’s not just health care. The senators are prepared to break with the White House on a wide range of issues: embracing deeper spending cuts, scaling back business regulations and overhauling environmental rules. The moderates most likely to buck their party include Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Jon Tester of Montana — all of whom are up for reelection in 2012 and represent states Obama lost in 2008."

Julie, this is weak journalism. Why no link to the source document and why no list of the signatories.

Please go back to Journalism 101 before you write any more articles.

How would Miller raise money for his slate then? It's pay to play right now. Committee Chairs control the legislative agenda and use that to raise tons of PAC money. In turn, to keep their committee chairmanship, they must contribute to the Democratic Slate:

2010 Cycle
Citizens for Frosh $100,000
Friends of Rob Gariagola $100,000
Supporters of Thomas 'Mac' Middleton $100,0000
*Currie given a bye because of FBI investigation

2006 Cycle
Friends of Ulysses Currie $70,000
Supporters of Thomas 'Mac' Middleton $50,000
Citizens for Frosh $20,000

You want your committee chairmanship? Majority leader? pony up!

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About the bloggers
Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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